Chatler Raises 330k to Help Brands Chat

Janos Szabó, along with his team at Chatler, are alumni of Startup Batch 7. They joined StartupYard along with 2 other Hungarian founded teams, Ouibring and Beeem.

Chatler Logo, StartupYard Accelerator

When I spoke with Janos about his company way back in early 2017, this is what I had to say:

“The past year has seen a boom in chatbots, which have become a buzzword in the tech industry, most particularly with retailers and big brands. StartupYard this year handled dozens of applications for chatbot startups, but despite the buzz, none of these seemed to us to have really discovered the inherent value of automating customer interaction on social media, and in customer care. Chatbots are not a new idea, after all, and much of the recent hype has come thanks to Facebook opening its platform for 3rd party developers, which has spurred renewed interest in new applications for chat.”

Today these words seem more true than before. Today, brands and marketers are facing the prospect of decreased access to their customers across social media channels, prompting them to rethink their social strategies, and put even more emphasis on chat and messaging.

Though we still get applications for chat-bot related startups (and we even took another in Batch 8: OptioAI, which has gone on to join TechStars), finding an immediate recognizable value for end-users remains a big challenge. So we’ve been very pleased with our choices so far, as both companies have been able to prove that the genre can be leveraged into compelling and useful products that people really value.

Chatler Team, StartupYard

The Chatler team during mentoring at Batch 7.

I sat down to catch up with Janos about his team’s experiences since leaving StartupYard nearly a year ago, and see what Chatler has accomplished in that time.

Here’s an overview of what I learned, and a look at how Chatler sees the near future for chat, and for itself:

Big Brands Love Chat (and Chatler)

Since finishing at StartupYard, Chatler has signed The Coca-Cola Company as a paying customer in 3 markets, Czechia, Hungary, and Serbia.

Chat via Facebook messenger is a growing category for major brands, who see chat volume increasing faster than any other channel. In addition, recent major changes in Facebook’s algorithm have left big brands scrambling to refocus on messenger as a prime channel for customer outreach. As Facebook decreases brand access to customers via the newsfeed, companies like Coca-Cola are looking to messenger as a bigger part of their future strategies.

That puts Chatler in the right place at just the right time to help big brands handle their social media presence, when content may become less important than personalization and two-way communication.

Chatler, Chat Automation, StartupYard

Many big brands currently use contact centers operating enterprise CRM software, so Chatler has responded by developing API integrations for software companies like  The company provides contact center CRM software for major brands and contact centers in Germany, Poland, Hungary, and Romania. In turn, these larger software providers can offer their brand clients, and also their retail and finance clients, the option of adding Chatler’s AI layer into their current toolset for customer care communication.

That’s a win-win for Chatler, who can provide the core AI functionalities for large clients that already have enterprise solutions in place. With Chatler, enterprise CRM providers can focus on providing the full stack of services to clients. Chatler will be used in this context to monitor communications, and develop automated suggestions and responses that are shown to get the best responses from customers. Chatler can help contact centers use their collective expertise more effectively, and refine customer support techniques using AI.

Investors See the Potential

Chatler has now raised 330,000 Euros (100m Hungarian Forints), from seed investment program of Hiventures Venture Capital Fund Management Ltd.

The investment has helped Janos and his team to build and prepare the launch of their enterprise-ready API, and it has opened doors to high-profile events and demo days, such as those of KPMG, and MOL, Hungary’s largest energy company.

And of course, Chatler is hiring! They’re looking for everyone from developers to salespeople. If you’re in Budapest, or if you’d like to be, and you love what they’re doing, send them an email.

Corporates are Slow, but SME is Interesting Too

While the Chatler team has had to wait longer than they would have preferred to release their API for enterprise customers (which is one of our Startup Facts), the waiting has also reignited their interest in SMEs and social media influencers, who can get value out of Chatler right now.

The team has already recorded some traction by selling their solution to Startup Safari, a well attended city-wide event for tech people in Budapest and elsewhere. Safari will use Chatler to manage the high volume of messages they receive during the events. In some cases, Chatler will work in parallel with a chatbot to allow fully automatic responses to simple questions on schedule, location, and other details of individual events.

That’s why Chatler has created a browser plugin that allows individuals or companies to begin to create a knowledge base from their correspondence on Facebook. Over time, Chatler’s AI functions will begin to suggest answers to common and eventually even complex questions as well. The plugin is designed to enhance the normal chat experience via Facebook, not to redesign it or to fully automate it. Chatler calls this “Next Level Chat.”

We have tested the plugin, and it’s very simple to use. Give it a try!

Leading the Chat Conversation

Chat is a unique channel for customer communication. It isn’t email, it isn’t the phone; it’s something different.

Chatler Brand Marketing, Messaging

Chatler helps SMEs maximize their content strategy reach.

That’s why Chatler has also been developing content for SMEs and big brands to learn about this form of communication in the business context. They have started an active blog, where companies can learn about engaging with their customers, Chatiquette, and turning your chat channel into a content marketing channel as well.

Want to learn more about Chatler? Message them!


A messenger code. Scan it to talk to Chatler.

The best way to interact with Chatler is through their own product. You can start a conversation with Chatler on Facebook Messenger by opening the app on your phone, selecting “People” at the bottom of the screen, and tapping “Scan Code.”

Welcome to the future.


Batch 9

StartupYard Batch 9: Visualized

StartupYard Batch 9 kicks off in a little over a month. Final selections are happening next week. Time flies! We can’t wait to see who will be joining us for Batch 9.

Every round, we like to share a visualization of the application process. While we haven’t made the final selection, we can share our initial data about the applicant pool. All data is anonymized, but you can get a nice sense of the trends we encounter with each round.

A full overview of the selected teams will be available at least a month after the start of the program (so no earlier than May).

As we did for Batch 6, and then again for Batch 7 and Batch 8 we find it very useful now to look back on the applications, and see what’s changed this time around. Where are people applying? What are startups working on? What are the hottest buzzwords? Previous experience has shown us that StartupYard applications can be revealing about the key trends to watch for in the next 6-18 months.

Here we’ll give you a visual trip through our applications for this round, with our analysis, and comparisons with previous years.

StartupYard Batch 9 : Who’s Applying?

StartupYard Batch 7 was the first time that StartupYard attempted two rounds of acceleration in one year. Batch 8 and 9 also come in close sequence, with applications closing on Batch 9 only 2 months after the end of Batch 8. The pattern in volume of applications has remained the same: we received almost exactly the same number as with Batch 8: 149 in total.

Below is a word cloud of the areas in which Startups identified their top skills and the markets they are working in. Note: we have eliminated the word “software,” due to its ubiquity in the application pool.

As we can see, Finance takes the top spot, along with Transportation, and Artificial Intelligence coming in second. We can hardly be surprised by this: between Bitcoin and Blockchain hype, Uber’s continued fascination for tech people, and the many emerging use cases for AI or IoT, these areas are naturally attracting fortune-seekers with new ideas.

In Batch 7 and 8, we noted that Marketing took the top spot in terms of which domains the startups were interested in. This was followed in the past by Data, and then Marketplace. 

Going even further back, startups from Batches 5 and 6 were still focused on Platforms, Mobile, and Apps, with UX and UI being important skills to mention. Today, these terms barely appear. It seems platforms with good UX and UI are now seen as default requirements for new products.

Marketing is Dead: Long Live Marketing

Interesting to us is the fall from grace of Marketing, which led the board for years. It may well be a reaction to the broader cultural shift toward suspicion of Big Data and Advertising that have dominated the tech conversion in recent years. Facebook and Google have particularly been the subject of much concern over privacy, the spread of propaganda, and the wellbeing of users.

The rising focus on AI along with Blockchain seems likely to be part of a shift in general consumer sentiment against the mass collection of private data, with its inherent loss of privacy and control over our experience of online services. At the same time though, these terms are increasingly being used as instruments of marketing: companies now talk about using Blockchain and AI to do things for which these technologies may or may not be huge game changers.

While data is still the foundation of AI, it may be that startup founders see what they’re now doing as beyond the data mining business, which is already quite crowded. Big Data may have simply become a fact of life. On the other hand, new privacy regulations in Europe, and a cultural backlash against big data collection may be pushing entrepreneurs to avoid the need for massive data collection.

Finance and Distributed De-Uberization

Finally, Finance has made a big break from the crowd, likely because of rapid shifts in the way consumers are treating finance products. PSD2, European open banking regulations that force financial institutions to allow customers to share their financial data across multiple platforms, was meant to drive more innovation around consumer finance products.

We see increased interest not only in personal finance, but in insurance management (both B2B and B2C), payments, and consumer/corporate investing.

In addition, the sudden rise of the ICO, and thousands of emerging technologies based on the Blockchain, have inspired startups to become “finance” oriented companies. Tokenization of services and networks opens the opportunity for financial products to become involved in more areas of the economy than before.

Whereas in years past, we saw many applications interested in the “uberization” of many services, today startup founders are seeking to “blockchain” everything, from in-person payments to insurance contracts, to day-labor.

This cannot be too surprising, given that the sharing economy Uber has represented for many years has really failed to deliver the benefits it has long promised. Indeed, Uber itself has still failed to become a sustainable business, and has suffered a severe backlash from consumers – once the name on the lips of every founder, Uber is no longer in the conversation.

Whereas “uberization” leverages a common platform like a mobile app to create a marketplace, and extracts rent from the different participants, blockchain startups forgo the platform in favor of a protocol that can be remixed with other services, and which is not centrally controlled.

This is doubtless appealing to startup founders, because it distances them from the deeply unpopular practices and cultures of companies like Uber. Uber still takes a large share of every transaction on their platform, but it is increasingly clear that their centralized model does not deliver significant benefits to the market (which has been largely covered up by Uber’s massive subsidies for drivers and riders).

This is not even to mention that Uber itself is not a sustainable business after nearly a decade in operation. It lost nearly $4 billion in 2017, leading Forbes to label its business model “fundamentally broken,” something many critics had been pointing out for years already.

Startup founders are realizing that services like Uber are certainly attractive to consumers, but they are also asking: “why do you need Uber the company to have Uber the marketplace?” Most of what Uber can deliver to customers and drivers can be done more fairly, more reliably, and more cheaply using a distributed service model.

Where are Startups Applying From?

Let’s start with a view on where applications came from for Batch 8, and compare that with Batch 9. Here they are in sequence:


Startup Applicants to Batch 8 – the Previous Batch

Applications to Batch 9 – Current Batch : Blue = low volume, Red = High Volume

I’ve changed the color scheme here slightly to emphasize the volume of applications from 2nd tier countries. As you can see, Czechia is still the leader, but it leads with only a third the number of applications as even last year. Batch 8 had about 45 applications from Czech companies, Batch 7 had even more. This year, there were only 16 Czech companies in the pool.

At the same time, 0ur geographic footprint widened considerably. This year, we attracted applicants from 44 countries: more than ever before. Batch 8 saw only around 32 countries. New countries included Sri Lanka, Gibraltar, Taiwan, and Lebanon- with one application each.

Which countries saw an uptick in applications? Surprisingly the biggest jump was from the UK, where 13 companies applied. That’s more than any previous year. Perhaps Brexit nerves or political tensions are pushing UK entrepreneurs to seek growth in Europe before it’s too late.

Detailed breakdown of application numbers for Batch 9

Anecdotally, we noticed that a significant portion of co-founders in UK based teams were in fact southern Europeans or other ethnicities. Are startup founders looking to abandon the UK and return to mainland Europe before the Brexit hammer drops?

Applications from Ukraine and India also rose this year. Ukraine’s jump was expected because Ukrainians have recently been granted the ability to visit Europe without need of a visa in advance of travel. This is good news for startups, as it decreases a huge barrier to Ukrainian companies seeking to do ongoing business in the EU. It may also be a matter of concern for Ukrainian startups, many of whom have personally confirmed to me during visits that more young people are leaving for the west than in the past.

Full Employment Has Huge Impact

We had believed in the past that the number of applications from Vysegrad countries would continue to increase at a faster pace. This has not happened over the past two cycles. Instead  Slovakia, Hungary and Poland contributed fewer applications in total than came from Ukraine alone.

There may be a key to explaining this in the employment statistics across the region. Slovakia’s rate of unemployment dropped like a rock in 2017, from almost 9% to less than 6% today. Anything under 5 is considered “full employment,” meaning that jobs are available and workers in demand across the income spectrum.

In fact, most of the Vysegrad group are suffering from a lack of workers for the first time since the fall of communism. Poland, Hungary, and Czechia are all below 5%, whereas the European average is about 8%. Wage inflation has increased accordingly, rising in Czechia to nearly the 2007 pre-crisis level of 6% per year.

Meanwhile, unemployment remains higher in Eastern Europe, with Ukraine close to 10%.

For the first time in many people’s lives in Vysegrad countries, governments are taking measures to improve workplace participation among young people, encouraging them to join the workforce earlier.

Because unemployment is very low, wage inflation and working conditions are improving quickly, possibly encouraging more young people to seek jobs in existing companies, rather than starting their own businesses. Increased career security may also give employed people less motivation to leave a comfortable salaried lifestyle and found a startup.

As living standards rise, the risks of starting a business are more obvious: loss of opportunity and income can be more acute when incomes are rising, as people tend to fear losing what they already have. In times of high unemployment, some will take more risks, having less to lose.

In Which Domains are Startups Working?

One of the key items every year is the breakdown of “domains,” or areas of tech innovation where the startups are working. This is often somewhat different from the market focus, as startups seek to apply new technologies to old problems, or bring existing technologies into new markets for the first time.

Batch 9 Domains excluding “other.”

The core domains we focus on represent more than half of all applications. Of these domains, Machine Learning remains the strong leader it was last year.

However, IoT and Blockchain have strongly edge out Analytics and Security, which have been dominant in previous rounds.

It’s important to note that the domains startups identify themselves as belonging to may be a function of fashion as much as the reality behind the words. Whereas in previous years, we would get many applicants who called themselves “security companies,” today those same companies might emphasize AI, or IoT as their domains, with security being downplayed.

In the previous round for example, Steel Mountain, which makes a security device that employs machine learning to hacker-proof connected homes and devices on Wifi, called itself a Security Company. Today, it might rather call itself a Machine Learning company, which does security, or an IoT device company that uses Machine Learning.

Often the product can be the same, but the emphasis in the application may change to fit the new trends. The security topic has somewhat cooled for startups, as blockchain has taken over many of the same applications, and as security companies become more common.

Batch 9 Domains Including “other”


As always, the largest single group of applicants represents none of our areas of focus. Some of these companies do in fact work in IoT, Blockchain, or AI, but they choose for whatever reason to emphasize their domains differently.

This has a lot to do again with how founders see themselves and their future in the industry they’ve targeted.

We sometimes ask applicants: “Do you want to be a technology company or an ‘X’ company?” X being insurance, music, entertainment, finance, or 101 other possible domains. The distinction at an early stage is not always completely clear, especially because founders are not always from technical backgrounds, and don’t always see themselves as primarily tech companies.

One conversation we had with an applicant working on Machine Learning revealed that he was focused on one particular industry, and would not be interested in shifting focus. Of course that’s a valid choice, but it’s also something you can’t always tell from the way an application is written. Sometimes applicants begin with one idea, and end up working on something entirely different, aside from the core technology involved.


What It All Means

This data set is too small to draw a definitive picture of the startup landscape in 2018. However, as we have been consistently monitoring trends in our application pool for the past 3 years, we can outline some clear trends.

The state of employment has had a clear impact on the volume and sources of applications. We also believe that the state of the economy has affected the types of companies applying to StartupYard. The ubiquitous “me-too” startups and the local clones of American products and services of 5 years ago are all but gone today. Perhaps many of these ideas have already been successfully executed in Europe, but the state of the economy has also changed the landscape considerably.

In 5 years, networks around high-tech startups have matured, and the communities around Central Europe have gained new heroes in the process (including many of our alumni). The first generation of online entrepreneurs, and successful online businesses, are now engaging very actively with the younger generation of startups, as we have observed within our own mentor community. Banks, Telcos, Insurance companies, Manufacturers, and Tech giants feel the increasing need to engage with early stage companies, and younger tech entrepreneurs now have a menu of options for growing a business with corporate partners, early stage investors, and active Business Angels.

It is a good time for startups.

Feedpresso, StartupYard

Feedpresso: Better News, One Reader at a Time

Tadas Subonis, CEO and founder of FeedPresso joined StartupYard during Batch 7, in early 2017.

At that time, the Feedpresso project was an android app with a small clutch of dedicated users, that helped a person organize and consume the news of the day. It was sort of like Flipboard, but it learned from your reading habits over time to provide a better mix of content you would hopefully find interesting.

Building a content product is a huge challenge, and Feedpresso was no exception. While they rolled out new features, brought feeds online and to iOS, they were bedeviled by the age-old problem of their business model. People who liked the free app didn’t want to pay for it.

So this year, Tadas sat down and wrote an update to shareholders. There would be a significant break in the pattern. Feedpresso would now focus on a very specific kind of customer: the kind that values news enough to pay for the tools to get it. All plans would be paid only.

Feedpresso will reset its strategy, focusing on people in the tech business, who are looking for high performance news aggregation.

I spoke with Tadas last week about the transition, and about his new goals for Feedpresso in 2018. As you’ll see in Tadas’s telling, this transition hasn’t been easy. But today his guiding metrics are not what they were a year ago:

Lloyd: Tell us a bit about your product pivot towards curation and the tech industry.

Tadas: After spending almost a year learning from our failures, we’ve learned (or at least I hope so) that we need to connect with our customers and really dig into their needs, and that’s not possible if we don’t have a very specific person in mind.

We took a look at our audience and ourselves and we realised that a clear audience that we can understand and communicate with is Technology Business professionals. These are people who know the worth of quality content, and are willing to pay to get more out of it.

People that are busy and are in a need of constant updates as the competitive landscape is constantly changing – new best practices, new MAs, and new technologies.

It’s not just about news either.

Another important aspect of the new Feedpresso is that it is a curation tool that helps our customers build their base of knowledge. Organizing and contextualizing timeless content that is important to you is something that’s surprisingly difficult to do with existing solutions.

The way content is presented to us, it has become difficult to give it our full attention, much less to remember it and review it given new information. Whatever is on your feed today is gone tomorrow (or in 5 minutes).

I think that many people feel overwhelmed in today’s culture of newsfeeds and tweets, and unable to really remind themselves of the things they find most important. So we are aiming to help customers contextualize what they read, and build up a record of their knowledge to better understand what they know, and how they know it.

You can see the need for this being met already in other ways, for instance by newsletter curators like Azeem Azhar, who work hard to create a context for modern events that readers can refer to into the future. My feeling is that everyone ought to be able to do that for themselves.

We need to bring back deep reading and reflection.

We’ve even started doing a Technology Business Review newsletter for our customers which turned out to be a success (it has a 70% open rate!). I think this is more evidence that people need more tools to contextualize the content they are consuming and keep track of it.


Lloyd: What’s led you to the decision to shift your focus onto power users?

Tadas: I’ve been made to realize, how true the advice by Paul Graham is: “Build something 100 people love, not something 1 million people kind of like.”

It doesn’t matter if you have a thousand customers if they do not care about your product. It is even worse when they all are so different that you can’t even talk to them, because there is nothing you can ask or say that would be relevant to all of them. Even more, the responses you do get are so diverse that the direction to go next is totally unclear. You end up trying to just get more users, any way you can.

Now I see that this is mostly what happens with freemium news products. They just become a machine for catching eyeballs, just like the content they are helping to spread. They don’t end up helping anyone. They just become another layer in a chain of distractors.

I think that serving the need to get more eyeballs on news feeds has really negatively impacted the people at the end of that process. We see more stuff, of lower quality, and it does have a measurable effect.

We are told that people won’t pay for news, which means news isn’t the product anymore, the readers are the product. I think that’s just not good enough.

I am not alone I think.

Last year while we were at StartupYard, Facebook was still denying that this problem existed. Today they are being much more open about it, and admitting that they’ve made some big mistakes. People are really negatively affected by the toxic environment of falsehood and anger on display now.

That is not saying it’s all terrible. Also in 2017, newspaper subscriptions grew faster than any year in modern history. People want to pay for news again. People want quality, and advertising is supporting quality less and less, so paid news is coming back. This can be a moment where people decide it’s worth it to get the right tools to read the news.

So that’s the environment we are in, and we’re targeting a very selective set of customers, who I think understand this problem well, and want it solved.

We’re pretty much back at square one as a business, and we’ve started rebuilding our audience around this new understanding of the problem we solve. Our advantage this time is that we know what the problem is, and we have the tools in place to build on, and try to solve it.

Lloyd: Are you close to a sustainable business model? How much more work do you need?

Tadas: That’s a good question. I have my eyes set on 1000 paying customers this year. That would make this a sustainable business. 1000 could be a lot, or it could be not very much, depending on how well we execute the next phase.

We have just a core handful of users who made the switch with us to a paid product. We’re learning from them every day.

Our customers have a lot of options to choose from, and even if the alternatives are inferior, it becomes really difficult to stand out in the crowd. This is why I believe a shift to focusing on a core set of customers who know the value of the product well is the only way forward.

Lloyd: What are your next steps for the product?

Tadas: The next step in the product is to fix myself  – I still think that there is so much space for improvement in the way we communicate with our customers. Before that is improved, we can’t have a clear direction in the product.

And here I don’t mean clear regarding what new features to add. I think that there is still a gap in the understanding of what fundamental problems our customers have. This news environment is evolving every day, and I don’t think anyone has the answers yet as to how to fix it. But we think we have the right approach, and we have to explore it with our customers.

Lloyd: How can people support the new Feedpresso?

Download us on the App store, or Android, or visit our website at to learn more. Get in on the ground floor with a new way of reading the news.